UN chief: Israel’s commitment to improve Gaza aid had ‘limited’ impact

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Israel’s commitments to improve aid access in the Gaza Strip have had limited and sometimes no impact, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday as he pushed for urgent, meaningful and measurable progress to avert famine.

The United Nations has long complained of obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza during the six-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the enclave of 2.3 million people.

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“To avert imminent famine, and further preventable deaths from disease, we need a quantum leap in humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Food is essential; so are clean water, sanitation, and healthcare,” Guterres told the Security Council.

Israel recently reopened the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and allowed the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel after US President Joe Biden demanded steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying conditions could be placed on US support for Israel if it did not act.

“Apparent progress in one area is often cancelled out by delays and restrictions elsewhere,” said Guterres.

“For example, although the Israeli authorities have cleared more aid convoys, those clearances are often granted when it is too late in the day to make deliveries and return safely,” he said. “So the impact is limited, and sometimes nil.”

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, the US ambassador to the UN said, however, that progress had been made and that the US would keep up pressure on Israel to facilitate more humanitarian assistance.

“It’s a work in progress. We have seen some movement over the past couple of weeks to improve the humanitarian situation but so much more needs to be done,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“We’re putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on the Israelis to take responsibility and they are being responsive.”

Guterres said three World Food Programme convoys - a total of 25 trucks - were authorized to use the Erez crossing on April 14, 15 and 16. Guterres also said that operating hours of Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings had been expanded by Israel, but security concerns meant the hours could not be expanded in Gaza.

The UN and aid groups need to use all possible routes and crossings into and throughout every part of Gaza, and also require Israel’s full and active facilitation of aid operations “and improved and direct communications between humanitarians and military decisionmakers on the ground,” Guterres said.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas in Gaza over an Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel led by the militant group.

Israel says about 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 people were taken hostage in the assault, and Gaza health authorities say Israel has killed nearly 34,000 people in its offensive in Gaza since then.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan did not directly address the humanitarian situation in Gaza when he spoke to the Security Council on Thursday, but he called out the 15-member body for its focus on the conflict.

“The amount of time, effort, and resources poured into Gaza, makes it seem as if the rest of the world is a pure utopia. That outside of Gaza, we live in a care-free world. Hakuna Matata,” he said.

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